Florenz Kitten

kitten workshop

His home at Ferdinand was Kitten's first workshop.

kitten engine

Kitten steam engine is typical of handmade models produced at Ferdinand.

kitten foundry

This picture of the Ferdinand Foundry & Machine Works was taken in 1908.

kitten threshingOp

Threshing operation

Kundek Corner:
Ferdinand Distinguished Citizens

Florenz Kitten is the Ferdinand Historical Soceity's 3rd Distinguished Citizen placed in Kundek Comer at Ferdinand Library.

Florenz Kitten and the town of Ferdinand were born in the same year. That the two names — Kitten and Ferdinand — should forever be intertwined now seems almost inevitable.

Henry and Theresa (Heeke) Kitten's son Florenz was born in Prussia in 1840. Surely his parents dreamed of a great future for him. Ferdinand, Indiana, was born from the perseverance of Fr. Joseph Kundek, and there is no doubt he dreamed of great things for his brainchild.

Political upheavel in Prussia began that same year, with the death of King Frederick William III. His son and successor, Frederick William IV lacked a practical nature and so Florenz Kitten's first 8 years of life were marked by economic depression and capped by political revolution. A working class uprising in June was crushed by frightful bloodshed. Politics, war, and poverty in the home land; a chance for democracy, peace, and prosperity in a new land – this the Kittens must have considered before deciding to emigrate to the United States, the "land of milk and honey where all the streets were paved in gold."

Henry Kitten was a wooden shoe maker; places to apply that particular trade were probably limited, even in mid-nineth century. Somehow the family arrived in Ferdinand where Henry had ready-made good German customers for his wooden shoes.

Young Florenz was probably 10 years old. Although he attended school and worked on a farm, by all accounts Kitten was a forward thinker more interested in evolving technology than in usual childhood pursuits.

Florenz tinkered in the Industrial Revolution. But tinkering was not a trade, so he learned carpentry and farming. He helped out on the farm until he was 19 and then switched to carpentry.

Meanwhile Florenz met Miss Katherine Luegers, ten years his junior. They married in 1868 and built a house at comer of 10th and Virginia Street in Ferdinand. It was here that Florenz began to seriously explore the powers of steam, in a second floor workshop in their house. (See picture of house on page.)

Using his knowledge of farming and carpentry combined with inventor's intuition, Florenz began building steam engines and threshers in his workshop around 1880. How could he adapt the marvels of steam to the rugged hillsides of Southern Indiana? The first horse drawn engines used an upright boiler, but Florenz soon switched to a short, squat, horizontal boiler in place of the elongated version favored by engine designers in flatter terains. Kitten's engine used a 24 hourse-power boiler with a return flue design. The cylinder was mounted on the right side with the fly wheel belt pulley on the left.

Florenz needed to expand his growing industry. He built a 2 story factory and foundry adjoining his home and dubbed the business Ferdinand Foundry and Machine Works located at northwest comer of 9th and Virginia.

In 1879, Florenz obtained a patent for an improvement in threshing machines straw carriers. After perfecting his designs, Kitten filed an application with the US Patent Office on May 29, 1889, to receive patent rights for his steam engine. Patent #409,594 was granted on August 20, 1889.

He began building traction engines. This was one of biggest improvements since the engines could now motivate without "Horse" power, pulling their machinary from farm to farm. Fully loaded with water, tools and coal, a Kitten engine tipped scales at 17,025 pounds, which is probably the reason most were sold within a 100 miles radius of Ferdinand.

Florenz inventions did not lack distinguishing features. The steam engines were generally painted yellow and red while all threshing machines featured yellow wheels. Even water wagons were painted to match and sometimes decorated with more intricate designs. Whimsical flowers added a festive touch.

Ferdinand Foundry and Machine Works completed its last steam engine in 1940. During the intervening years, 224 were built. A wooden pattern was cut for each piece and 1000s of pieces were joined to form a finished engine. With each engine a water wagon would be built. Approximately 200 threshing machines were also constructed at the plant.

The Foundry was by far the largest employer in town. Florenz apparently provided other services as well. With Daniel Miller of Jasper, Kitten was awarded the contract to instill steam heat at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Jasper, Ind. The total project would cost $2,200.00.

FERDINAND was running full steam during Florenz Kitten's heyday.

Story copied from Ferdinand News October 5, 1995